NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Executive compensation and shareholder returns don't always move in the same direction, and sometimes it's the CEOs who get the short end of the stick.
A study in The Wall Street Journal published Wednesday ranks CEO pay among 300 leading companies against shareholder returns in 2014. Researchers found that CEO pay remained high last year even though more companies had negative shareholder returns.
The study also identifies the 10 CEOs whose compensation was cut the most in 2014. Surprisingly, six of the executives on the list delivered positive returns to investors in 2014.
In 2013, Seagate Technology (STX) - Get Report CEO brought in $19.8 million in total compensation. In 2014, he received just $2.6 million, an 86.8% cut. However Seagate, a provider of electronic data storage products, returned 31.6% to investors. It also repurchased $1.9 billion of its shares.
Luczo, who has been CEO of Seagate Technology since 2009, received no stock or option awards in 2014, while in 2013 he received $12.9 million and $3.7 million in stocks and options, respectively. His nonequity compensation fell to $1.5 million from $2.2 million the year prior as well, though his salary increased slightly.
Seagate's proxy statement provides insight into what happened in 2014. The CEO received no long-term incentive awards last year, because his 2013 award was intended to serve as the equity incentive award for a period of two fiscal years.
Seagate representatives declined to comment.
Discover Financial (DFS) - Get Report had a strong 2014, returning 18.9% to its investors. CEO David Nelms, however, saw his compensation drop by 59%, to $8.7 million. Nelms has been the banking and payment company's chief executive officer since 2004 and was elected chairman of its board in 2009. He originally joined Discover in 1998.
Discover raised eyebrows last year when company filings revealed he had made $21.1 million in 2013, $18 million of which was in the form of stock awards. In 2014, however, his compensation dipped back down. He received $6.1 million in stock awards -- about one-third of the amount doled out the year before.
Beyond stock performance, Discover gave back to shareholders in other ways in 2014 as well. It increased its quarterly dividend and repurchased approximately 25 million of its shares.
Discover Financial representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna (AET) , made a 31.1% gain for his investors last year and increased the stock's dividend by 11% in November. His pay, however, was halved, falling to $15.1 million in 2014 from $30.7 million in 2013.
Bertolini became Aetna's CEO in 2010 and took over as chairman in 2011. His base salary of just under $1 million remained stagnant in 2014, but the amount of his stock and option awards fell significantly.
According to Aetna's proxy statement, he received $5.1 million and $6.9 million in stocks and options in 2014, respectively, compared to $16.9 million and $11.2 million in 2013.
"Last year's summary compensation table in the proxy included a one-time performance-based retention award, which is tied to significant relative market-based hurdles and high financial performance criteria," said Aetna representative Cynthia Michener in an email. "The reward was valued at $17.6 million at grant date August 5, 2013. These units only vest at the end of the three-year vesting period if performance targets set at the time of award are met." She also said that Bertolini's salary has been the same for five years and has remain unchanged since his appointment in 2010.
If Aetna becomes an acquisition target, Bertolini also stands to gain. As Bloomberg recently reported, the executive could receive $131.3 million in compensation if he loses his job in a takeover.
Estee Lauder (EL) - Get Report CEO Fabrizio Freda's compensation was halved last year to $15.6 million from $31.6 million the year prior. Shareholders made 14.2% on their investments. The firm also increased its dividend by 11% and spent $667 million repurchasing shares.
Freda received an enormous stock award in 2013, amounting to more than $21 million. In 2014, however, that amount fell to $5.6 million. His base pay of $1.75 million remained unchanged.
Estee Lauder's proxy statement sheds light onto the sizable change in Freda's pay and explains that significantly fluctuations year over year are the result of the value and timing of equity awards he has received in the past in addition to annual equity grants. With this taken into account, his compensation shows a 7.7% increase between fiscal 2013 and fiscal 2014.
Estee Lauder representatives did not comment.
McKesson (MCK) - Get Report CEO John Hammergren made $25.9 million in the pharmaceutical company's fiscal 2014, significantly less than the $51.7 million received the year prior. Shareholders, on the other hand, received a return of 64.6%.
McKesson took heat on the structure of Hammergren's compensation in 2013 and made adjustments to appease shareholders. Its 2014 proxy statement lists a number of concerns voiced by investors, including the size of its CEO's pension benefit, the level of executive compensation and the design of its incentive plans. In turn, it reduced both Hammergren's pension and compensation and made changes to its incentive program.
Although John Hammergren's pension value change was listed at $24.2 million in 2013, in 2014, it dropped to less than $1 million. He also made less in nonequity incentive compensation, stock awards and option awards.
McKesson has already released its fiscal 2015 proxy statement, which reveals that Hammergren's compensation was reduced yet again, albeit slightly. He brought in $24.8 million during the period.
Hammergren has been president and CEO of McKesson since 2011 and its chairman since 2002.
McKesson representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
Parker Hannifin (PH) - Get Report Chairman and CEO Don Washkewicz stepped down as the industrial conglomerate's chief executive at the start of 2015 after spending nearly 14 years in the post. The last year of his tenure, he made $15 million, down 45.3% from the year prior. He returned 34% to Parker Hannafin investors.
The major difference came in the size of Washkewicz's option awards. In 2013, he was awarded $16.4 million in options; in 2014, he received $4.3 million. His salary, stock awards and nonequity compensation increased.
Donald Washkewicz has been replaced by Thomas Williams as the firm's chief executive, who will likely receive a pay boost in his new post. In 2014 as the firm's executive vice president and operating officer, he received $6.2 million in compensation.
Parker Hannifin representatives did not respond to a request for comment.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.